Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck Revisit Their Spectacular Pasts Onstage in Ohio
It takes someone with a lot of stones to take the stage each night after Brian Wilson. But Jeff Beck, who damn near upstaged Eric Clapton at his own Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007, is one person who's up for the task.
But this tour isn’t about upstaging anyone. Beck is approaching this outing with a lot of understandable reverence for his touring partner. And when you look at the songs that Wilson has composed over the years, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity, if only to hear them performed each night?
However it ended, one of the best things about last year’s Beach Boys reunion tour was that it brought Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks back onstage together. And as things splintered, an even better thing happened: Wilson, Jardine and Marks decided they would continue to make music together. For Marks especially, you feel happy that the 'Lost Beach Boy' is finally back with his old bandmates. Wilson, unthinkably the last of the Beach Boys' Wilson brothers still standing, and Jardine should have been back together with or without Mike Love many years ago. Finally, all is good as it should be and hopefully this union will stick for years to come.
If you’ve seen Wilson perform in the past decade, you’re well acquainted with his solo band, the core of which features members from the L.A. power-pop group the Wondermints. Longtime Wilson and Beach Boys associate Jeffrey Foskett is an important part of the mix as well, filling in some of the familiar high vocals formerly rendered by Wilson back in the day, but bringing crucial amounts of positive vibes and energy to the lineup as well. At the time of the Beach Boys' reunion tour, Jardine spoke highly of Foskett’s presence and the confidence and support that he adds (Foskett “basically kind of makes it possible to have Brian on the road with us,” Jardine said).
But the same can really be said of the entire nine-piece band that backed the three former members of the Beach Boys during their performance in front of a near-capacity crowd at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron on Oct. 27 . What if those beautiful songs of Brian Wilson were delivered in a fashion that accentuated their beauty with none of the previously felt undertow of underlying agenda and band stress weighing things down? That’s what was really great about Wilson's set --- it was all the songs that you loved so much back in the day, and the band delivering them looked just as happy and exuberant as the audience enjoying them.
Performing a mix of hits (‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice,’ ‘California Girls,’ ‘Do It Again’) and deeper cuts (the beautiful set-opening showcase of vocal harmonies provided by ‘Their Hearts Were Full of Spring,’ the medley of ‘Old Man River/ Cottonfields’ and the ‘Holland’-era cut ‘Sail on Sailor,' and even a Dennis Wilson penned Beach Boys track, 'Little Bird'), it felt an awful lot like the Beach Boys themselves were onstage. And perhaps, if we’re playing the numbers game, they were. Call it whatever you want, it doesn’t really matter; it’s all about the music, which was undeniably good.
Even with Foskett filling in a few things vocally, Wilson himself was more engaged and present on every level compared to some of his early solo tours. His vocals were confidently strong on ‘Marcella’ and especially on the majestic version of ‘Heroes and Villains,’ which earned Wilson his first standing ovation of the night. His 70-minute set could have gone on a lot longer than that, but at the given length, it was a concise overview of his career.
After a short changeover, Beck and his band came out to deliver a show that was a perfect counterpoint to the initial groundwork that Wilson and crew laid down. Accompanied by a four-piece band featuring bassist Rhonda Smith, guitarist Nicolas Meier, violinist Lizzie Ball and Jonathan Joseph on drums, Beck would turn out a performance that wasn’t built on as much flash and flair as some of his recent tours, but one that still found the guitar veteran operating with typical precision.
He was gracious and appreciative in his brief interactions with the audience, but the real communication came during Beck’s interplay with his band members, like on the hypnotic Middle Eastern groove woven with Ball and Meier during ‘Yemen.’ Quietly understated acoustic guitar by from Meier provided a suitable lead-in for Beck to turn and burn about a minute and a half into his rendering of Jimi Hendrix's classic ‘Little Wing.’ Longtime staples like ‘The Pump’ and ‘Big Block’ peppered a strong set, which wrapped with his show-stopping cover of the Beatles' ‘A Day in the Life.’
Wilson joined Beck onstage midpoint in the set and again during the encore, hammering home the feeling of togetherness that permeated the entire evening. Bringing Wilson and his band back out onstage for a total of three encores, the pair ran through two more Beach Boys favorites, 'Barbara Ann' and 'Surfin' USA,' but it was Beck’s plaintively strummed chords on the traditional ‘Danny Boy,’ melded with vocal harmonies from the combined group of band members from both bands, that put the perfect cap on the night. However bizarre it may have seemed on paper, the concert combination of Jeff Beck and Brian Wilson was one that worked quite well, and it bodes well for their upcoming work together on record.